CRICKET IN OLYMPICS
ICC has been actively pushing for cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics for the past two years. © Getty
Exactly one month from today, on September 5, the World Cup will kick off. The International Cricket Council (ICC) in Dubai may be excused if temporarily it shifted its focus away from the tumultuous build-up to this pinnacle event in India. At the moment, its attention may well be directed towards an event five years from now-the 2028 Olympics.
In just three days, on Friday (September 8), to be precise, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will make a crucial decision regarding cricket’s inclusion in the Los Angeles Games. ICC members interviewed by Cricbuzz exude nervous optimism. “Fingers crossed,” one ICC member shared on Monday. “If all goes well, we should know by the end of the week.”
A boost for the ICC, which has been actively pushing for cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics for the past two years, comes from a recent comment by IOC president Thomas Bach. “I’m really a fan of cricket, I was even playing once. I was doing one in Fiji. We were walking across a sports field. There were women playing cricket in Fiji. And then my spokesperson who is an ardent fan of cricket, came and said, ‘now you have to play’. So we went to this women’s cricket team. And they allowed me to play with them for some moments,” the IOC boss told India’s CNBC TV recently.
The 15-member Executive Board, consisting of Bach, four vice-presidents, and 10 other members, will convene in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Friday to consider a recommendation from the LA 28 Games organizing committee regarding the inclusion of new sports. The board’s decision will require ratification at the IOC Session in Mumbai in mid next month (15-17). Expectations are high that LA 28 will likely opt for cricket.
One of the reported reasons for LA 28’s interest in cricket is the sport’s growing popularity in the United States. The Major League Cricket (MLC), which recently concluded its inaugural edition, has captured the attention of Americans. The MLC is also set to contribute to infrastructure development, with the LA Knight Riders franchise expected to complete the construction of a 10,000-seat stadium in Los Angeles within three years.
The ICC has apprised LA organizers of these developments in several meetings since September last year when the global cricket body officially pitched cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics. LA 28 has set a threshold of 10,500 athletes and coaches in the Games Village, meaning that a team sport like cricket, with a squad of 15 members, will bring in additional athletes who will need to be accommodated by the organizers. The ICC has recommended six teams in each of the men’s and women’s categories, which would still require at least 250 personnel, including support staff, in the Village. The recommended format is Twenty20.
Cricket is competing with eight other sports, including flag football, karate, kickboxing, baseball-softball, lacrosse, breakdancing, squash, and motorsport for a spot in the LA Games.
Over the past month, global media outlets have extensively covered the possibility of cricket’s inclusion in the LA Games due to its immense popularity in India, the world’s most populous country. “The world’s most populous country really cares about only one sport, but India’s 1.4 billion people and soaring economy are enough to attract the attention of the International Olympic Committee – so much so that cricket could find its way onto the program for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics,” Washington Post wrote on August 22.
As recently as Monday, The Times of London predicted a positive outcome for the ICC’s efforts. “Thomas Bach, the IOC’s president, is understood to be very keen to include cricket because of its appeal to the vast populations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are traditionally not so engaged in Olympic sports as other parts of the world. An Olympic T20 tournament would be expected to attract enormous numbers of TV viewers,” the London paper reported.
What it did not mention is that this enormous TV viewership could potentially reach a billion viewers and generate over $250 million in extra revenue for one edition of the Games, particularly from an Indian broadcaster. This website reached out to the LA28 organisers but there has not been a response.
Cricket made its Olympic debut in Paris in 1900 when two teams, England and France, competed. More than a century later, cricket is on the brink of a return to the Olympic stage. Currently, it is the second most popular sport in the world after football, but once it becomes an Olympic sport, countries like China, Japan, and Brazil are expected to embrace it more seriously, potentially challenging football’s global hegemony. However, that is a discussion for another time.